Sometime in 1983 I was assigned a series of fashion advertisements by the American department store The May Company. I rented a studio in downtown Los Angeles, set up my equipment, met the hair & makeup artist, Keith Zenobia and waited for the model to arrive. Sharon Stone doesn’t enter a room, she works it. So as she crossed the threshold with clean face, wet hair, Levis, a Barry Kieselstein Cord belt, a thin white t-shirt that left little to the imagination and the distinctive clunk clunk clunk of her Manolo Blahnik high heels.
We went through the cursory “how-do-you-dos” and she Keith headed off to the dressing room while my assistant Edward and I finished setting up the equipment. I worked as a fashion assistant for several years before I began shooting on my own and had learned a few things. A great book that I had found particularly helpful in defining myself as a photographer was “Fashion Theory” by Carol Di Grappa. In a series of essays David Bailey says “the best fashion photographs have a homosexual’s attitude… but that a photographer didn’t need to be a homosexual to idealize women.” I am shy by nature, but very straight.
Given the shield of the camera allowed me proximity to the most beautiful women in the world and by maintaining a decorum of sexual ambivalence, I can maximize my affect on the style and context of a photograph. This was in stark contrast to my dark Italian assistant who wore his masculinity on his non-sleeves with tight tank tops and bulging muscles. Many people don’t understand that there is a inversely proportional relationship to how attractive a woman is, and their absolute need for attention in order to reinforce their place in the cosmos. The queen in Snow White lives in every beauty.
It was apparent to me that Stone (as I called her) was measuring the her ability to dominate any straight man in the room as she entered. Having already worked with hundreds of beauties as an assistant, I wasn’t going to be easily swayed by her machinations. May company paid by the shot, so the more pictures that were completed, in the shortest period of time, meant more money for me. In the dressing room, she questioned Keith about my sexual orientation and was surprised to discover that I was not gay, based on my deliberately blasé attitude towards her.
Our first shot was a costume jewelry earring. The setup was simple, one light, a stool, an unlit white background. Stone walked out with a towel wrapped around her that she was fussing with. As she walked onto the set, she asked where the shot was cropping and I tapped my own chest at the neck line. With that, she tossed the towel aside, and wearing only her thong and high heels, mounted the stool. Game on. Inside I was amazed, but guffawing… and not willing to give her what she needed, a reaction. Meanwhile, Edward was having a hard time breathing.
We made some polaroids and a couple rolls of film, and I said “got it, thanks, next shot.” As she walked off the set she said to Keith “he must have a beautiful girlfriend.” To which Keith responded “I don’t think he has a girlfriend at all.” This kicked off several weeks of strange phone calls and a bizarre mating dance which ultimately culminated in a late night call for help about an assumed prowler. After that, we co-habituated in her Beverly Hills apartment for almost a year. Her mother knitted matching pot holders with our initials S & P, and her first comment to my mother was “Peter and I were just discussing what to name your grandchildren.” She classified our relationship as “Partners in Crime.”
Eventually we went our separate ways.
Technically, these photographs were a challenge. Generally the light was low, coming through sheered windows and a single torchiere lamp in the case of the photographs on the floor. The lens on the Nikon FM2 was a 50mm 1.4 and the Tri-x was probably being pushed to 1600. The color photographs taken at the dining room table were the “snipped” end of a roll of Ektachrome and were not even viable images until digital scanning technology allowed them to be salvaged.
Sharon has always styled her life. Even when she was throwing art supplies on the floor, there was a deliberate intent to make sure that there was some sort of aesthetic orientation. The sheered windows were the original designed fixtures in the apartment, but Sharon replaced the boring white with fabric that brought color and energy into the space. There was a certain comfort that we had in each other that is manifest in these images. Most stars wouldn’t let a photographer make a photograph of them with messed up hair in real life, unless perhaps you were the one that messed up their hair.
These photos reflect a different Sharon Stone than most people are aware of. Struggling with her weight and her carrer, there is a certain vulnerability revealed that she has eschewed since “Total Recall”. In her most acclaimed roles in Basic Instinct and Casino, she’s not really acting. If you want to know what she’s really like, watch those films. Her performance in the film “Basic Instinct” is taken from life, only the ice pick is a metaphor. Inside though, she is a 300 pound Pennsylvania farm girl and wearing a fat-suit isn’t going to give her the Shelly Winters Academy Award moment. If she wants the Academy Award, she’s going to need to pull a DiNiro and start packing the groceries. I’m sure that scares the crap out of her more than anything else.